CHARLESTON, S.C. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the Republican presidential field Saturday and told supporters he would make the federal government “as inconsequential in your lives as I can” by reducing taxes and easing regulations.
Perry announced his plans before an overflow crowd at the conservative RedState Gathering in South Carolina, an important early primary state. His entry came hours before the release of results from a straw poll in Iowa where the crowded field of candidates was competing. Perry’s name wasn’t on the ballot, though it could be written in.
Shortly before the speech, Perry launched a campaign website and held a conference call with state activists. “I full well believe I’m going to win,” he told them.
Perry used his speech to slam Washington and President Barack Obama for “rudderless” leadership and “an unbridled fixation on taking more money out of pockets.”
Perry said one in six work-eligible people in the country cannot find full-time work. “That is not a recovery. That is an economic disaster.” He promoted his record of job creation in Texas and said he would have the same success as president.
“Page one of any economic plan to get America working is to give a pink slip to the current resident in the White House,” Perry said to loud cheers.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt hit back, saying Perry’s policies were a “carbon copy” of Republicans’ in Washington.
Polling shows the popularity of Congress, and Republican lawmakers in particular, at record lows.
“In a Republican field that has already pledged allegiance to the tea party and failed to present any plan that will benefit the middle class or create the jobs America needs to win the future, Gov. Perry offers more of the same,” LaBolt said in a statement.
Perry did not mention any of his Republican rivals in his remarks.
Perry, 61, was to visit New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, later Saturday before heading to Iowa Sunday.
The leading GOP candidate so far has been Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor making his second run for the nomination. But no one in the field has managed to raise the kind of enthusiasm among conservatives that seems to surround Perry.
Among the others in the race are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and businessman Herman Cain.
Perry enjoys support from both tea party members and social conservatives because of his opposition to abortion and gay rights. He is also an evangelical Christian who organized a well-attended prayer rally in Houston last week.
Perry is a prodigious fundraiser who has begun laying the groundwork for a national finance network that supporters say would rival Obama’s. Obama is expected to exceed his record $750 million haul from 2008.
But some Republicans worry that Perry’s hard-core conservatism and Texas style may not play well in a 50-state contest, particularly so soon after another Texas governor, George W. Bush, served in the White House.
Bush had record low approval ratings when he left office in 2009.
Perry’s visit to New Hampshire was to be his first of the year, on the heels of a visit by some state activists to Texas to encourage him to run.
Romney has dominated early polling in New Hampshire, where he has a summer home and has devoted much of his campaigning so far.